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Sleep in general

Animals vary widely in their amounts of sleep, from 2 hours a day for giraffes to 20 hours
for bats. Generally, required sleeping time decreases as body size increases. Cats are one of
the few animals that do not have most of their sleep consolidated into one session,
preferring instead to spread their sleep fairly evenly throughout the day.
Seals and dolphins "sleep" with alternate hemispheres of their brains asleep and the other
awake. Seals need to do this so they can breathe above water while sleeping. Migratory
birds also seem to sleep this way.
Even fish and fruit flies appear to sleep. If fruit flies are repeatedly disturbed so that they
can not sleep, later when allowed to sleep they will stay inactive for a longer period of time.
Many animals hibernate in a deep sleep during winter to save warmth and energy. A similar
kind of sleep is aestivation, which is hibernating to escape the heat of summer.
What is sleep?
There is much debate and little understanding of the evolutionary origins and purposes of
sleep. Virtually all who study sleep today theorize that one of the major functions of sleep is
consolidation and optimization of memories (including "unlearning").
The state of sleep is common to all known life forms, plant and animal. It is the
fundamental metabolic state of life itself. To ask why organisms sleep is equivalent to asking
why organisms live at all. To understand sleep one must instead ask the correct question:
Why do we awaken? The state of wakefulness is a much different metabolic state; it is a
catabolic state, hence the organism can only survive for a certain amount of time before it
must return to the anabolic state, otherwise it will die.
The state of sleep is an anabolic state marked by physiological processes of growth and
rejuvenation of the organism's immune and nervous systems. Studies suggest sleep
restores neurons and increases production of brain proteins and certain hormones. The
state of wakefulness is a temporary hyperactive catabolic state during which the organism
acquires nourishment and procreates. Answering the question "Why do we awaken" puts us
in the correct perspective to understand that sleep is the essential state of life itself.
Adequate rest and a properly functioning immune system are closely related. Sleep
deprivation compromises the immune system by altering the blood levels of specialized
immune cells and important proteins called cytokines, resulting in a greater than normal
chance of infections.
Sleep proceeds in cycles of NREM (SWS) and REM phases. Each phase has a distinct
physiological function. Dreaming, for example, appears to occur during REM sleep.
Some drugs, such as alcohol and sleeping pills, can suppress certain stages of sleep. This
can result in sleep that is loss of consciousness, without fulfilling its physiological functions.
An organism that is prevented from returning to its sleep state soon has its basic life
functions impaired. If the insufficiency is small, a sleep debt can accumulate, leading to
drowsiness. Severe lack of sleep, up to and including a total lack of sleep, can have quite
severe psychological effects, and will eventually cause the death of the organism. Human
subjects have been observed going without sleep for up to eleven days; during the last part
of their ordeals, they were effectively non-functional.
Experiments with rats have been designed to measure the effects of severe sleep
deprivation. In one, a pair of rats was placed on a platform, separated by a movable wall.

Both were instrumented with electroencephalograms. Whenever the "subject" rat began to
show signs of sleep, the partition was moved, forcing both rats to move. The "control" rat,
however, could sleep in between movements. After several weeks of this, the subject rats
became unable to regulate body temperature; even if they were allowed to sleep at this
point, they died shortly afterward.
Sleep stages
Although sleep may seem like a steady state, it actually consists of several stages that cycle
throughout the night. The types of brain waves present at the time determine the stage of
sleep. As the name alludes to, the most profound discernible characteristic of REM sleep is
the bursts of rapid eye movement while dreaming. Although dreaming occurs during the
other stages of sleep, the most vivid dreaming occurs during the REM stage.
One complete sleep cycle lasts about 90 to 100 minutes; therefore during an average sleep
period a person will experience 4 to 5 complete sleep cycles. The sleep cycle begins with
four stages of SWS (Slow-Wave Sleep), also called NREM (Non-REM). Note that after the
completion of the 4th stage, the 5th stage does not immediately begin; instead, the first 4
stages quickly reverse and are then immediately followed by a REM period. The first REM
period will occur roughly 90 minutes after falling asleep; thus the first REM period will last
only about 10 minutes, given the length of each sleep cycle being roughly 100 minutes. The
length of the stages is not static, however: as the night proceeds, the length of stages 3
and 4 (also called delta or deep sleep) begins to wane, and the length of REM sleep
increases, up to about one hour in length after a number of cycles. Therefore, as the night
goes on, you dream for longer periods of time.


one (lasts a few minutes)

4 to 8Hz (alpha, theta)
consists mostly of theta waves (high amplitude, low frequency (slow))
brief periods of alpha waves, similar to those present while awake
Eyes roll slowly on falling asleep. Body movements slowed.
Light sleep, easily awakened, might deny being asleep if awakened.
Drifting thoughts and floating sensation.
Temperature, heart rate, pulse decline further. Regular breathing. May have
hypnogogic hallucinations on falling asleep.


two (lasts a few minutes)

8 to 15Hz (alpha, theta, spindles, k-complexes)
peaks of brain waves become higher and higher (sleep spindles)
k-complexes (peaks suddenly drastically descend and then pick back up) follow
Eyes quiet. Few body movements. Snoring is common
Light to moderate sleep. Relatively easy to awaken. Eyes will not see if open.
describe vague dream if awakened
Decreased heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, temperature and metabolic rate, regular
breathing with increased airway resistance.


three (deep sleep)

2 to 4Hz (delta, theta)
very slow brain waves, called delta waves (lower frequency than theta waves)
20 to 50% of brain waves are delta waves; the rest are theta waves
Occasional movement, eyes quiescent
Deep Sleep, takes louder sounds to be awakened.
Rarely able to remember thoughts. A few vaguely formed dreams. Possible memory


Metabolic rate, pulse, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature decrease further.
Increased secretion of growth hormones
four (deep sleep)
0.5 to 2Hz (delta, theta)
again, also called delta sleep or deep sleep
more than 50% of brain waves are delta waves; the rest are theta waves
Occasional movement, eyes quiet.
Deepest sleep, very difficult to awaken.
Virtually oblivious, very poor recall of thoughts if awoken possibly involved in
memory consolidation.
Continued decline in heart rate, temperature and metabolic rates. Increased
secretion of growth hormone.

REM Sleep
> 12Hz (beta)
beta waves have a high frequency and occur when the brain is quite active, both in
REM sleep and while awake
Large muscles paralyzed. Fingers toes and facial muscles twitch. Snoring uncommon.
Variable sleep depth. If sound is incorporated into dream, then harder to awake.
80 percent dreaming, good vivid dream recall, especially later in the evening.
Possibly involved in unconscious conflict resolution.
Heart rate 5 percent greater than above stages. Pulse, temperature and metabolic
rates increase. Irregular breathing one-half extra breathe per minute.
The mechanics behind sleep. Early ideas about sleep inclined to a 'passive' theory that
sleep occurs to prevent fatigue or is caused by a lack of sensory stimulation. To support that
notion, certain experiments showed that if incoming nerves in the mid-brain were severed,
the organism remained virtually in constant sleep.
Some theories propounded that the brain was actively inhibiting consciousness in order to
achieve sleep, and some experiments showed that cats could be put to sleep by electrical
stimulation of a part of the brain.
It gradually became accepted that the reticular formation in the brain stimulates the cortex
of consciousness. There seems to be an inherent rhythmic sleep-wake cycle, but
wakefulness is aided by external sensory stimulation.
Several factors assist in maintaining wakefulness by stimulating the reticular formation,
such as a decrease in blood oxygen level, excess of carbon dioxide or excessive warmth.
The cortex itself is capable of exerting a strong effect on wakefulness - worries or
excitement can keep us awake.
When the electrophysiological monitoring of people during sleep began, the distinct states of
slow-wave sleep (SWS), and REM became known. Research has shown that the two sleep
states are governed by the flow of neuro-transmitter substances at the base of the brain.
It is fascinating, in a sleep laboratory, to observe that inevitable alternation, in a roughly 90
minute cycle. Typically, the subject is 'wired up' with sensors called electrodes, that are
stuck by tape or glue to the body to detect electrical signals accompanying muscular or
nervous activity.
Two electrodes on measured positions, (for consistency between laboratories), of a few
millionths of a volt are used. Four other electrodes, placed above and below the outer edge
of each eye record eye-movements, (EOG), in any direction, and two others on the jaw
measure muscular tonus, (EMG).

Those measures provide enough information for a standardized evaluation of sleep state,
but often other measures, such as respiration and body temperature, are also recorded. The
data formerly appeared on chart paper emerging from the recording instrument - termed a
polygraph - but it is more likely nowadays to be stored in a computer and displayed on a
SWS have been arbitrarily divided into four stages, according to the amount of slow waves
of certain amplitude that are present. At sleep onset, in stage one, the eyes begin to roll
slightly in many subjects and the waking alpha rhythm, (about ten cycles per second), of
the EEG disappears. In stage two, there are sudden 'k-complexes' in the EEG in response to
external or internal stimuli. Stage three exhibits definite large slow waves and if over half
the record consists of such a pattern, stage four is registered. After perhaps 20 minutes or
so of stage four sleep, the sequence is reversed, to perhaps stage two, and then REM sleep
suddenly makes an entry.
The EEG of REM sleep is active - showing saw-toothed waves. The EMG trace is very narrow,
reflecting the amazing bodily paralysis which afflicts the subject for the duration. REM sleep
is associated with dreaming. Occasionally, the eyes shift about - in 'REM bursts'. The
movements seem to be a mixture of both involuntary and scanning actions.
Another feature of REM sleep is of penile erections in males - and clitoral erections in
females. All men are conscious of the connection between erections and dreaming and it
may have been that link which led Freud to assume the sexual nature of dreams. However,
it is unwise to assume anything whatsoever in science and experiments have shown that if
subjects are woken repeatedly from REM sleep, the erection cycle gets out of phase with the
REM cycle. Thus the two phenomena are linked, but there is not necessarily any cause and
effect between them.
Each REM period increases in length during the night, and the amount of SWS
correspondingly decreases, so that the first half of the night consists mostly of SWS and the
second half predominantly of REM sleep.
More recent theories about sleep and dreaming have stressed the evolutionary background
and have tried to explain either SWS or REM sleep, but no one idea is fully accepted.
Generally, it has been hypothesized that SWS keeps us still and out of harm during darkness
and that bodily growth and repair can occur at that time.
REM sleep is seen by some, looking at the computer analogy, as a time when memories are
updated and filed, and redundant information discarded - not true! (see common
A few decades ago, it was thought that to be deprived of REM sleep would result in mental
disturbance - it was an erroneous belief. It is understood now that some drugs, such as
certain anti-depressants, completely abolish REM sleep - and yet there are no noticeable
deleterious effects in users.
The surprising conclusion is that REM sleep does not seem to be necessary in
However, it may be very important to the developing foetus. This is conjectured from the
fact that sleep of a new born baby is about 50% REM. That type of sleep, then, may be
significant in programming or even providing some kind of genetically coded imagery to the
foetus. Not many psychologists believe now that the mind of a new born baby is a complete
tabular rasa or blank state.
A person who is deprived of sleep will, on eventually resting, experience non-dreaming SWS
in preference to dreaming sleep, (REM), so dreaming is a bit of a luxury to those short on

Interestingly, the 90 minute SWS/REM 'ultradian' cycle has been seen to persist into daytime activities, for instance when observing oral activity.
Dream duration
The greatest myth about dreams is that they are over 'in a flash'. It is surprising how many
people today accept that idea as true. It stems from the Frenchman, Maury, who reported
having had a long and involved dream which culminated in his execution by guillotine. At
the moment the blade fell, he was woken by part of the bed collapsing on his neck. He
reasoned that the whole dream construction must have occurred in that moment.
It sounds a plausible notion, but we know that expectation certainly affects dreams and it
may have been that his bed often collapsed and perhaps gave warning creeks. The facts of
that case cannot now be known. As there was no counter evidence that dreams occurred in
'real time', Maury's theory stayed around and gained considerable ground.
However, Dr Hearne was the first person to show that dreams do actually take as long as
they appear to do. In his sleep-laboratory, studies of lucid dreams, where subjects signalled
information from within the dream by making coded eye movements, Dr Hearne found that
the estimated passages of time between signals corresponded to the actual measured
durations in the holographic chart record.
Further information on drugs
There are different effects alcohol can have on sleep. In addition, it is interesting for the
analyst to note that, in small quantities, it acts as a stimulant, but in larger doses, it has the
opposite effect - that of being a depressant. Tobacco is also a stimulant and smokers tend to
fall asleep after a longer period than non-smokers.
Barbiturates used to be prescribed for insomnia. They were very powerful and suppressed
REM sleep. The body then adapted by tolerance and the baseline level of REM sleep
recovered. However, if the user stopped taking the drug, a massive 'REM rebound' effect
would occur, for several weeks, during which vivid nightmares might result.
Dream forgetting and recall
The reason for rapid evaporation of dream memories is probably to prevent confusing
dreams with reality. The memories do not seem to be actually erased - because something
the following day can trigger the recall of an entire dream. It is more a case of them being
filed away somewhere marked 'Not normally to be accessed'. Of course, those seeking selfinsight and self development from their dreams have to overcome that obstacle.
Recall is best immediately after the dream. The brain is very active in REM and the thoughtprocesses can function on waking. However, waking from SWS can be quite different especially from stage four of sleep. Often the individual woken from that condition is
disoriented, and 'sleep-drunk'.
Do we dream in colour?
Finally, let us briefly consider the big differences between individuals as regards colour in
dreams. In general surveys on dreams, colour is usually referred to in about a third of
cases. If, however, subjects in the sleep lab are asked to report any colours in dreams on
being woken from REM sleep, nearly three-quarters can recall colours. The content of the
dream seems to be remembered in preference to any colour factors.